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MARIANO SAVES
TOM VERDUCCI
October 05, 2009
As the gates swing open upon another October, baseball will once again attempt to divine one of the game's great mysteries: how a man, closing fast on 40 and armed with but a single pitch, continues to dominate in the clutch like no other player
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October 05, 2009

Mariano Saves

As the gates swing open upon another October, baseball will once again attempt to divine one of the game's great mysteries: how a man, closing fast on 40 and armed with but a single pitch, continues to dominate in the clutch like no other player

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"Everybody wants to throw it now, thanks to Mariano Rivera," Posada says. "Roy Halladay has his cutter now. Every time we have to face him, we go, 'Thanks, Mariano!'"

In the secretive world of baseball, where information has become increasingly proprietary, Rivera will gladly explain to anybody who asks him how to throw the cutter. "I always do," he says. "I don't try to hide anything from anybody. It's not a secret. I have talked to a lot of players, National League and American League."

Rivera tells them he holds the cutter just like a four-seam fastball. The ball is positioned with the seams forming a horseshoe shape with the closed end of the horseshoe facing to the right, or "outside" of the ball in the released position. The index and middle fingers are held perpendicular to the horizontal seams of the horseshoe, with the thumb underneath the ball.

"To me," Rivera says, "it's really a four-seam fastball with pressure on the middle finger. I don't move my fingers. But at the end, it comes off [the middle] finger. I try to keep it on my finger as long as I can."

"But he throws his four-seamer with two fingers together," Borzello adds. "There is almost no space between his fingers. Nobody else I know throws a baseball that way."

One night in September, after throwing a shutout inning to get the win in a walk-off Yankees victory, Rivera showered, changed into blue jeans and a T-shirt that read sanctify across the back, and left the clubhouse with his teenage son, Mariano Jr., without a reporter even bothering to talk to him. (They did descend on his clubhouse neighbor, Gaudin, the starter who had a no-decision.) Another night, 10 days later, after yielding a walk-off home run to Ichiro Suzuki for his first blown save since April 24, Rivera left the clubhouse happily licking a chocolate ice cream cone. Win or lose, Rivera is the same.

"You're seeing the greatest closer of all time," Posada says. "I don't care about eras. There's nobody better. No one can even compare. His body doesn't change. He doesn't change. He's the same Mariano as he was as a setup man, as a closer, as a friend."

Posada has known Rivera since they attended the Yankees' Instructional League camp in Tampa in 1991. Two springs later, Rivera, recuperating from right-elbow surgery, took part in conditioning work, including sprints, with the fastest prospects in the system. Rivera ran stride for stride with them. "You've seen him shagging in centerfield?" Posada asks. "He's the best centerfielder we have. An unbelievable athlete. He's probably gained four or five pounds since 1991. He has a little less hair. But he's the same person. It's unbelievable."

Out of camera range Rivera is gregarious. He has become a mentor to Phil Hughes, the latest of many pitchers to serve as his eighth-inning liege. And he regularly needles his teammates before games. If Derek Jeter is slumping, for instance, Rivera will walk by his locker, offer a look of disdain and say, "Jeet, are you going to get any hits today?" Then he'll walk away before Jeter can respond. He will tell a slumping Posada, "You haven't hit a ball hard in two weeks." And he will tweak Alex Rodriguez, saying, "Are you going to hit the ball hard? We pay you all this money."

"You don't know the side of Mariano we see [in the clubhouse]," Posada says. "He gets on people. He probably gets on me and Jeter the most because he's more comfortable with us."

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